by Kakita Diro

    ...the Crane gives the people hope!

    Those were the words of my grandfather when I asked him what was the duty of the Crane. He told me that it wasn't courage, though that was important, it wasn't honor, as many Cranes believed. The duty of the Crane was to make the Empire a better place. Our place in the Empire was proclaimed by the heavens, but that is useless if the people are unhappy. For the people of the Empire to be happy, they must be glad to be alive. They must know that life will be better. They must have hope that despite the Shadowlands attacking the Wall, the Crab will never break. They must hope that despite the Great Clans warring on each other, life will be better. That is what the Cranes are for Diro! We give the people beauty. We give them peace. WE GIVE THEM HOPE!
    I miss my grandfather's wisdom very much.

    The lone ronin attacked again! He was a former Crane as I recognized the technique of the Daidoji school from his strokes. He was also very, very good. Whereas my yojimbos were facing several opponents at one time, this ronin was facing me alone. His strokes were smooth, his strikes were clear, his footwork was great...he was a better swordsman than I was. Just then, the ronin made a feint! His katana went left as my katana went for a block. At the last moment, he slide to his right, slipping his katana around my block and straight into my left shoulder. I push the scream down deep, refusing to release any cry. The ronin attack once more. The strikes came in a flurry, I was backtracking all the way when finally it happened! In a breathtaking move the ronin changed direction in mid-swing and cut right across my face. I fell hopelessly to the ground, no sound coming from my lips! I looked up and saw my murderer. A straight face with a mouth that seems too wide for him. His eyes shone as he looked down at me. I said nothing, just waiting for the final strike.
    Then a scream came. The ronin looked up and immediately moved back! A man came at him in a rage, swinging his katana in a attack that did not stop. It was Saito! Blood was coming out of a wound that was clearly on his face but he did not stop. The ronin was desperately trying to stop Saito...then it was over! In a move I have never seem before, Saito flashed his katana sideways then across! The ronin was dead instantly. I looked across the field of battle and saw another three ronin standing around the dead body of Genju. Another ronin laid dead beside him. They saw me and Saito and then fled into the fields behind them. Saito saw them flee and slowly went down on one knee. His wound was clearly troubling him.
    My head fell back onto the road. Now if I can close my eyes. For a while. For a little while...